In a major milestone for National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), its fourth Mars rover Perseverance completed its first test drive on the red planet. The rover covered a distance of about 6.5 metres across the planet's surface in a drive that lasted about 33 minutes.
In its maiden drive test, the rover moved forward by four metres and then took a 150-degree turn to the left. After this, it backed up 2.5 metres and stopped at its new temporary parking space, as per a statement by NASA.
The drive helped the space agency check out and calibrate every system, subsystem, and instrument on the Perseverance rover before its starts with its scientific mission. "When it comes to wheeled vehicles on other planets, there are few first-time events that measure up in significance to that of the first drive," said Anais Zarifian, the mobility test bed engineer of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. "This was our first chance to 'kick the tires' and take Perseverance out for a spin. We are now confident our drive system is good to go."
As part of its mission, Perseverance is supposed to collect rock samples and seal them in its dozens of super-sterilized titanium tubes so that scientists can study the presence of microbial life on Mars. This would help characterise the planet's geology and past climate, making way for human exploration of Mars. Once this mission begins, the rover is expected to make regular commutes of over 200 metres.
Perseverance landed on Mars on February 18 and has since undergone several routine checks such as software update, replacing the computer program that helped it land on Mars with one that NASA will rely on to analyse the planet. On March 2, the rover 2-metre-long robotic arm was unstowed for the first time. Each of its five joints were flexed over the course of two hours.
The rover has also been sending down images from Mars using its set of 25 cameras.